NASA severs most of its Russian ties

Space agency maintains ties with Russia to maintain space station, ferry astronauts

NASA announced late Wednesday that because of continuing tensions with the Russian government, it is scaling back work with Russia's space agency.

However, NASA will continue to work with the Russian Federation to continue the safe and continued operation of the International Space Station. The U.S. has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts back and forth to the space station since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011.

"Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions, to include suspending bilateral meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis," NASA said in a written statement emailed to Computerworld .

Just last week, NASA said that despite the U.S. government's condemnation of Russia's occupation of Crimea, cooperation in space would not be affected.

A Russian Soyuz rocket carried a NASA astronaut and two cosmonauts to the space station on March 25.

"We do not expect the current Russia-Ukraine situation to have an impact on our longstanding civil space cooperation with Russia, which goes back decades, including our partnership on the International Space Station program," NASA said last week.

That is not the tack the U.S. is taking this week, though.

NASA's most recent statement focuses on U.S. efforts to get back into a position to be able to carry its own astronauts up to and back from the space station in just three years.

"NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space," NASA said. "This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches -- and the jobs they support -- back to the United States next year."

NASA now is looking to begin launching astronauts again in 2017.

"The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians," NASA said in its statement. "It's that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America -- and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same."

NASA's proposed 2015 budget maintains the agency's plan to begin launching astronauts by 2017, as well as its plan to study near-Earth asteroids and sending humans to Mars by the mid-2030s.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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